A-levels should be scrapped in favour of a broader “baccalaureate-style” qualification that requires all young people to study Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects up to the age of 18, the Royal Society has suggested.
In a study published today, the society has called on the government to create “rigorous” post-16 courses and qualifications that will ensure students studying arts and humanities continue with some education in the Stem subjects.
The move is in response to the fact that “too many people in the UK are mathematically and scientifically illiterate”, according to the report’s authors, because of a “persistent dearth” of students taking up the subjects after GCSE.
A million more science, technology and engineering professionals will be needed by 2020, the study says, but the UK is unlikely to meet that target.
Sir Martin Taylor, chair of the Royal Society’s vision committee, said the “general level of mathematical and scientific knowledge and confidence” in the population needed to be increased to meet employers’ needs.
“Science and mathematics are at the absolute heart of modern life. They are essential to our understanding of the world, whether that is knowing where the energy that powers our homes comes from or making sense of the public debate on the latest evidence on climate change.
"Science and mathematics also provide the foundations for the UK’s future economic prosperity,” Sir Martin said.
He added: “Too many people in the UK are mathematically and scientifically illiterate. We want to link people’s learning and skills to the current and future needs of the economy.
"We know the analytical and problem-solving skills acquired by studying mathematics and science are greatly prized by many employers. What we need now is a stable education system that is properly designed to meet this need.”
The document, called Vision for Science and Mathematics Education, also calls for teachers to have an increased role in assessing pupils’ achievement, adding that all teachers should be working towards a “suitable teaching qualification”.
Independent, expert bodies with powers to set curriculum and assessment should also be created, the study adds, to ensure greater stability in the system.
Teachers are “wasting precious time” dealing with the constant changes to the curriculum and exam syllabuses which take place in the current education system.
The time could be better spent on professional development and planning innovative lessons, they add.
Professor Dame Julia Higgins, vice-chair of the vision committee, said the government needed to take the society’s recommendations seriously.
“Our vision takes the long view but recognises that there is both urgency and great opportunity for government to act now,” Dame Julia said.
“Estimates suggest that one million new science, technology and engineering professionals will be required in the UK by 2020 and yet there is a persistent dearth of young people taking these qualifications after the age of 16.
“If the UK is to remain globally competitive and if we are to develop a more equitable and informed society, government and the wider education community must take the Royal Society’s recommendations seriously.”